Whiskey Golf to YFZ                    Home     Next Airplane    Back to Collection

(or: Draggin’ your tail to Yellowknife)                                                            May, 1998

If you are a pilot trying to gain experience, seeking new experiences, or if you are from time to time, intimidated with arriving at unfamiliar airports, perhaps this kind of trip is exactly what is in order. Besides, as I am a relatively low time pilot, who is still prone to making mistakes on a regular basis, it made sense to make them "way-the-hell-up-north", where most likely nobody would notice!!!

So, why Yellowknife?

Well… I’d like to say that I have always been lured to the land of the midnight sun, where clear waters abound, caribou run free, and folks risked their lives seeking gold in "them thar hills". Yes, that’s what I’d like to say, but the truth is that my airport directory book  fell open to that page, at my supper table one night.

And so the plan formed, that Whiskey Golf and I, armed with a whole bunch of stuff you don’t normally need to carry in an airplane, would got to Yellowknife, and watch the sun "not setting" together. For those of you that don’t know, Charlie Whiskey Golf, C-FCWG, is a 1954 Cessna 170-B, a four place tail dragger. Basically a 172 with the nose wheel on the other end. I purchased Whiskey Golf in New Liskeard this past October, and began flying lessons shortly afterward.

The original departure date was to be Friday but my airplane took ill on the Wednesday, with an exhaust valve problem, and on closer examination it was determined that 3 new cylinders were in order. With very grateful thanks to Bob Evans at AirMobile, the patient was revived at 5:00 am on Saturday morning.

The 1.5 hour test flight on Saturday went well, but with only a few hours rest, it didn’t seem like a good time to leave. This decision naturally caused the weather to close in on Sunday. Finally, on Monday evening, Whiskey Golf and I, together with a tent, sleeping bag, survival gear, weapons, spare parts, two GPS units, a case of oil, books about how to live in the bush if you survive the crash, a stack of maps, and a jar of peanut butter sneaked out under "The Drizzling Grey Yonder".

We made our way to North Bay, with a short stop at Muskoka to check oil consumption on the half-new engine and to ask myself why I was doing this.

The next morning led us to Chapleau, and on to Wawa. The weather grounded us once again, and a two night stay in Wawa is not particularly recommended. I asked a passerby what was of interest in Wawa, and with a great deal of town pride, she informed me that they now had a ""Mr. Mugs"" coffee shop. I managed to contain my excitement, and gave her my heartfelt thanks.

Wawa had its bright spots however, as Whiskey Golf had spent much of her life in this town, and her presence attracted two of her previous owners. The first (Maurice) had hailed me on the radio over Chapleau, and the second had spotted us from the road. Maurice and I had a beer together one evening, and I finally go the story on the major repairs to the left wing, that I had read about in the tech log, (seems it met with a Birch tree). You could tell that Maurice still held a true fondness for the little taildragger, in spite of the rather large scar on his wrist from a bad experience hand-propping Whiskey Golf!!!

Leaving Wawa under marginal conditions is another story of it’s own, and I will summarize it by stating that I have not been scared as badly since.

Arriving in Geraldton that night, was a welcome change, and a mention of Bob Evans’ name will bring you quite a few new friends. Folks here remember Bob from his years working at the water bombing base, and they speak well of him. The Canadair tanker aircraft for fighting forest fires are quite a piece of machinery.

The weather turned downright violent west of Geraldton, and there we were again, this time for a full four days. Time to spare? Go by air…

Underway once again, and on to Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, and finally out of Ontario.

My arrival at Pine Dock, Manitoba on their oiled gravel & clay runway (quite a nice strip actually) was a nice change. Nestled into a very beautiful spot on Lake Winnipeg you will find this to be a wonderful vacation spot, and I treated myself to a luxury cabin, complete with Jaccuzi, and all the comforts of home. The picture window overlooks the lake. Cessnas and DeHaviland Otters bob serenely in the harbour. A very nice spot all-in-all.

The next day took me to a place called "The Pas" (pronounced: "The Paw") and an overnight stop again for weather. By now I suppose I could have driven to Yellowknife. The IFR training is beginning to look like a really good idea!

Leaving The Pas, I set a heading for Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan. After fueling, it’s onward and upward to Uranium City, crossing over Lake Athabaska. The landscape along the way is becoming more and more incredible. Vegetation is sparse this far up, and it looks like the glaciers carved this part of the Canadian Shield just a little while ago, as opposed to the thousands of years ago that it really was. The lake is still ice covered, but I wouldn’t want to bet that I could land on it. Going around it is not an option because although there are airports, none of them sell fuel.

Uranium City is a true Canadian ghost town. Until 1982, it was home to as many as 12,000 people. However, with the closing of the mine, that number reduced within a few months to the 150 residents that remain. Most of the houses, buildings and roads still remain, and it is a unique and somewhat eerie experience to wander around it at dusk. Soon it is scheduled to be leveled, and you can take your pick of almost any house that is still standing for $500.

The final leg to Yellowknife was the longest two and a half hours of my life. Nothing but rock and water as for as you can see. On May 19 at 20:36 UTC, I watch the latitude display roll over to north of the 60th parallel. None of the land is flat, and I haven’t seen anything that I would call an alternate landing sight.

The visibility is spectacular with the lack of moisture and pollution in the air. In the middle of the flight, the drone of the engine was interrupted by a couple of misfires (probably a bit of water swallowed by the carburetor) which really got my attention.

The moving map on my Garmin GPS has ceased to show ANY detail, all it shows me now is a straight line to indicate my course, and a little picture of an airplane in the middle. My finger seldom leaves the map, and position checks are accomplished by the strange shapes of the more prominent lakes on the chart.

Great Slave Lake is frozen still. Crossing the Simpson Islands gives the impression of staying over land, but it is a false security, as the Simpsons are just blocks of rock, jutting out of the ice. Perhaps you could ditch close enough to crawl onto one if you had to…

The city of Yellowknife is visible at a distance of 80 nautical miles. At almost 50 miles, you can make out the runways at the airport. CYFZ is a big, busy airport. Lots of commercial jets, Beavers, Otters, Twin Otters, DC-3s, helicopters by the dozen, and more other cargo planes that I can recall. I understand that it is the busiest (or one of the busiest) airports in the country.

I stayed in Yellowknife only for two nights and two days. I saw the sights, toured the museums, and hiked some of the trails outside of the city. I found it to be a great town full of nice folks, and a city that is rich with history. I’ve never met a group of people that were more proud of the place they live than the people of Yellowknife. At one o’clock in the morning, you can walk outside and read a book in the sunlight, and at this time of the year, it never gets dark, only dusk and then daylight again.

The trip home was done in three days, with about 8 hours of flying each day. The routing: Yellowknife – Uranium City – Buffalo Narrows – Flin Flon – Norway House – Pine Dock – Ignace – Sioux Lookout – Geraldton – Wawa – Owen Sound and finally home to St. Catharines. The weather was good, but a very rough ride for most of the trip home.

I had a challenging diversion around Nakina, due to smoke from the raging forest fires, and Whiskey Golf and I followed the railway tracks to Geraldton, just legally at 500 ft. AGL (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). Southbound from Geraldton to the shore of Lake Superior at 7500 ft. it actually became smoky inside the airplane.

By the time I reached Wawa that night, maximum RPM was down by two hundred. I figured that I knew the cause, and wasn’t overly concerned as the temperatures and pressures were all normal. My suspicions were confirmed after landing and inspecting the air filter which was now brown with all of the smoke particles it had trapped. In the morning, I removed it, scrubbed it with hot soapy water in a men’s room, reinstalled it and flew home.

The round trip totaled over 5000 statue miles, and took 48 hours of flying time. I was away for 13 days, and it was an awesome experience.

Would I do it again? Probably!!

In and airplane with wheels? Maybe…

In an amphib? Definitely!!!

Alone? Probably not!!!!!

48 hours is a long time to ride in a Cessna by yourself!!!!!

Dave Willcock


Home    Next Airplane    Back to Collection